Sunday, October 14, 2012

Intergenerational Trauma

Intergenerational or multi-generational trauma happens when the effects of trauma are not resolved in one generation. When trauma is ignored and there is no support for dealing with it, the trauma will be passed from one generation to the next. 
-- Wesley-Esquimaux and Smolewski, quoted in Eyaa-keen Centre's Historic Traumatic Transmission (HTT) Information Sheet
Lately, it seems that almost everyone I know is struggling with some form of mental health issue. This might seem like a negative statement at first glance, but here's the flip-side: there's a whole lot of healing going on.

What is happening in the world today?

One part of the equation is that mental illness has come out of the shadows. What was once kept hidden is now more often visible to the world. Some of us even share our struggles in the ├╝berpublic forum of the Internet. And this, believe it or not, is a very good thing.

When a person such as Danielle of Another Version of Mother shares her painful struggles and the steps she is taking toward wholeness, as she did recently in her powerful post "Warrior," someone else may read and begin their own healing journey. It's no accident that the raw post I wrote about my lowest moment, The Day I Couldn't Get Out of Bed: Post-Adoption Depression, remains my most popular piece ever. Whereas previously many of us suffered in silence and isolation, we now can find others who are dealing or have dealt with similar issues.

My maternal biological grandmother was proud of saying that her generation didn't need anything like therapy because they "just dealt with things." Of course, one of her generation's primary tools for "dealing" was secrecy. The cover-up of my birth was tied to this preferred strategy, as was the hiding of my grandfather's alcoholism. (What was he self-medicating for?)
123RF Stock Photos

My biological family is not alone in hiding their "stuff." My adoptive family has its share of secrets. Probably your family does too. In fact, many of us are the holders of a mysterious inheritance: anxiety and trauma-residue from events that are no longer known. 

If you are struggling with mental health issues, please do not think you are weak. In fact, I propose that the opposite may be true. Maybe you are the one who is finally strong enough, or resourced-enough, to step up and grapple with the demons of the past. Maybe you are the warrior for whom your generational line has been waiting. The healing work you are doing now is not insignificant, and is not just about you; its effects will ripple through the generations. That is no small thing.


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